Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David will address questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question to him at: TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.
"I know I'm not being very nice to him," Janice said to me, glaring over at her husband during a counseling session. "I'm always so mad at him there just isn't any room in my brain for being nice. I'm filled up with anger."
I looked at this sad, distraught forty-year old woman, reflecting on her words as her husband glared back at her.
"I'm just telling you both the truth," she said, tears running down her face. "I'm mad all the time, and I can't help it. I know I'm treating Jordan terribly, but he keeps doing things to make me mad."
"Anything I do makes you mad," Jordan retorted. "I can't do anything right in your eyes."
Jordan stroked his graying beard, watching Janice for her reaction.
I asked them both to stop for a moment, to reflect upon what they were saying. Honestly, I was also wondering about my next intervention. Here was a lovely couple, with three children, a strong Christian faith, watching their marriage disintegrate. Janice was being honest when she announced she was always angry. Jordan certainly spoke the truth when he suggested she was always angry. Now what?
In those few moments I considered how many couples were "filled up with anger." How many couples want to reach out to each other, but the bridge between them is littered with emotional debris such as anger, hurt, resentment and bitterness. They want to touch each other but they can't seem to fight their way past their hurt.
An email shares a similar story.
Dear Dr. David. My wife accuses me of being mean. I used to hate it when she said that to me, but now I think it is true. I feel mean. I feel angry toward my wife most of the time. Even when she accuses me of being mean, I feel even more anger toward her. It's like I never get my bucket of anger emptied, so she gets it all.
I wonder how we can push some kind of reset button and start again, but I doubt that will happen. Any suggestions on how to get rid of my anger toward my wife so we can have a better marriage?
Yes, as a matter of fact there are answers for how to push reset and start again. Thankfully our Christian faith can help us in taking on a better attitude toward our spouse. Here are a few strategies for "starting over," emptying our mind of negative, hostile feelings and replacing them with more helpful feelings.
First, practice keeping problems in perspective. Often our problems are the only thing we can see, and what we focus on becomes our reality. Practice seeing the larger picture, remembering why you fell in love with your mate and what you still appreciate about them.
Second, rehearse these beneficial attitudes and traits. Scripture tells us "Whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, think on these things." (Philippians 4: 8) Dwell on the positives in your relationship, not the negative. Practice being loving, kind and generous, and watch these traits and attitudes grow.
Third, stop blaming your spouse for the problems. Studies show that we love to maximize others' faults while minimizing our own. Don't do it. Blame not only narrows our vision, but lets us off the hook. Consider your part in the problem and stop putting it all on your mate. Take responsibility for working on your problems, taking your focus off your mate's contribution to the issues.
Fourth, solve problems. Nothing feels as good as joining with a mate to solve problems. While you dare not dwell on the negative clutter, you must address it. Problems won't magically go away. Discuss with your mate the issues that breed resentment and develop a plan for getting rid of it. Nothing feels quite as good as working together with your spouse to raise the relationship to a new level.
Finally, develop a safe outlet for expressing painful emotions. There are times in every relationship where we feel hurt, angry and perhaps even resentful. We don't need to harbor those feelings, but neither do we need to simply wish them away. We can attend to our hurt and practice healthy ways of working off steam, such as exercise, talking with a trusted friend or journaling.How are you doing in your marriage? Do you have times when hurt and anger are all you can see, leaving little room for warmth, caring and affection? Take responsibility where needed and create a plan for change. Let me know how these strategies work with you and your mate. Please send your responses to me or visit my website.
October 13, 2010
Dr. David Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life, 90 Days to a Fantastic Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.
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